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2017 Jaguar XE Review: First Drive

2017 Jaguar XE

CARS.COM — A half-day drive in the all-new Jaguar XE confirmed some of my initial thoughts after I put the sedan through a handling course near Cars.com’s offices last April. The XE, Jaguar’s first small sport sedan in nearly a decade, is a dynamic choice that rides exceptionally well. Its warts show up in cabin materials and interior space, but it’s nonetheless a worthwhile consideration for sport sedan shoppers.

Related: 2017 Jaguar F-Pace Review: First Drive

On sale now, the XE comes in four trim levels with turbocharged four-cylinder gasoline or diesel engines, or a supercharged gas V-6. Rear-wheel drive and an eight-speed automatic transmission are standard; all-wheel drive is optional with the diesel or V-6.

At Jaguar’s Colorado media preview, I drove the all-wheel-drive XE with the V-6 and the diesel four-cylinder. A caveat on ride quality: Both sedans had Jaguar’s optional adaptive suspension, the fanciest of three setups. Jaguar also offers fixed suspensions with regular or sport tuning in the XE, but I can’t comment on ride quality with either setup.

How It Drives

A few autocross laps last April in a rear-drive XE with the supercharged V-6 revealed masterful dynamics. The nose tucks instantly into corners and the tail drifts free with plenty of warning for as long, or as little, as you’d like. A drive on mountain switchbacks near Aspen, Colo., proved the XE’s all-wheel drive, which sends almost all power to the rear wheels under normal circumstances, delivers nearly as much fun.

With the turbocharged diesel, the XE is every bit as dynamic as a BMW 3 Series or Cadillac ATS, two benchmark rivals for handling. The car rotates controllably and instantly, uphill or downhill. All-wheel drive and the supercharged V-6 give the XE its heaviest curb weight (about 200 pounds heavier than the diesel or rear-drive V-6 sedans I also drove) and it shows up in the form of soupier reflexes – chiefly, a touch slower steering turn-in and hints of understeer. Still, the chassis keeps body motions in check; even at its portliest, the XE stays flat as you accelerate, corner or brake.

The 180-horsepower diesel four-cylinder’s robust torque — 318 pounds-feet, nearly as much as the supercharged V-6 — makes for gratifying low-rev acceleration, while the 340-hp supercharged V-6 pulls with lag-free urgency. Jaguar’s eight-speed automatic is an occasional hindrance to both engines, lagging on downshifts or gear-hunting through them when you call for more power. Two sportier settings (one via the gearshift itself, the other through a driving-mode selector) shore up some of the lag, but it’s just another example that high gear counts do not a good transmission make.

Ride quality is a high point. Factory wheels on the XE range from 17 to 20 inches in diameter and, with the adaptive suspension and 18s, the XE takes on broken pavement, tar patches and rapid elevation changes with outstanding control. The 19s introduce a degree of chop, but even then, ride quality still shows a lot of polish.

The turbo four-cylinder gas engine makes 240 hp, but Jaguar offers it only with rear-wheel drive. The brand offers a manual transmission for the car abroad but not here, something that probably upsets me more than it does 95 percent of XE shoppers.

The Inside

As fun as the XE is to drive, some will find the cabin too small or too Spartan. Despite the sedan’s overall width, wider than its German rivals, the interior feels narrow up front, particularly in the passenger-side footwell, and skimpy on headroom all around. The short windows limit forward and rearward visibility, and the doors are an ergonomic lapse — a mishmash of outcroppings, none of them at the right position or length for armrest duty.

Legroom and seat height are both adequate in back, but the limited headroom means taller passengers will have Calvin hair by trip’s end. (That’s of Watterson fame, not Coolidge or Klein.) The trunk offers some payoff, at least; at 15.9 cubic feet, it’s as much as you get in many midsize sedans.

Cabin materials are impressive in certain areas, particularly with the XE’s optional vinyl-wrapped dashboard. But there’s a degree of consistency elsewhere in the class that’s lacking here. You don’t have to look hard to see where Jaguar stashed cheaper, lower-grade plastics — places the 3 Series, Mercedes-Benz C-Class and others trim with richer materials. Some rivals have convincing faux leather in their cheaper variants, but the XE’s bottom trims have a grade of vinyl that won’t fool anyone who looks closely.

The standard multimedia setup includes an 8-inch touch-screen with physical shortcut keys, HD radio, a USB and iPod interface, and Bluetooth phone and audio streaming. Two Meridian premium stereos are optional, as is a 10.2-inch display, which replaces the 8-inch screen and shortcut keys. Its on-screen shortcut buttons are less intuitive than the smaller screen’s physical ones, but it’s otherwise a first-rate setup, with a navigation system that allows you to pinch and swipe at smartphone speeds. The 8-inch screen also offers navigation, but it’s a slower, rudimentary system by comparison. With either screen, an optional app interface supports many third-party apps off a connected iPhone or Android smartphone, but Apple CarPlay and Android Auto are unavailable.

Final Thoughts

Pricing starts in the mid-$30,000s and extends just south of $67,000 with all options, a spread comparable to other sport sedans. A moonroof and power seats are standard; throw in crowd-pleaser luxury options like a backup camera and heated seats, and you can get a nicely equipped XE with rear-wheel drive and the turbo four-cylinder for roughly $37,000 — fairly affordable, as similarly equipped rivals go.

Throw in Jaguar’s impressive standard warranty, which includes complimentary maintenance, and the XE is an interesting choice for driving enthusiasts, albeit less of one if you want a bona fide luxury car or need to cart family and friends around.

Stay tuned for our full review.